Debate Over Reopening Utah Schools Escalates

Jul 29, 2020, 10:51 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The debate over opening schools up for in-person learning continues to heat up as another organization called on school districts to delay getting kids back into the classroom.

Officials with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, which represents 450 doctors in Utah, said it has heard from teachers and looked at the plans for opening schools, and they believe it’s just not safe for students to get back into schools.

Their biggest concern was the number of students in one classroom with not enough social distancing and not proper ventilation.

“We don’t think enough preparation has been made to provide the kind of safety that we need,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of the physicians group. “We need to get as much outdoor air into the classrooms as we can. We need to have as many classrooms outside as we can.”

The other concern: Students not only giving the virus to teachers, but bringing it home to at-risk family members. That’s why Moench called this a community issue, not a school issue.

“Teachers’ safety really has to be paramount, but teachers’ safety is the same as community safety. All these students are connected to a family and those families sometimes have multiple generations in those homes,” he said. “This isn’t just an issue of teacher safety or pupil safety — it’s an issue of community safety.”

That’s exactly what worries Ana Alcala, a middle school teacher. “My Latino community has been hit hard with COVID, so COVID is not this abstract thing,” she said. “It’s very real in my community and it’s hit us hard.”

Alcala said she wants to get back into the classroom more than anything, but she believes conditions are just not safe.

“I want to be in the classroom with those kids, but I also know I care for their safety,” she said.

Deborah Gatrell, a high school teacher in the Granite School District, said the risk of her getting the virus is huge when she’s teaching multiple classes a day, five days a week.

“If I’m going to have a class of 25 or higher, three or four times every day, I’m taking a 50-plus percent risk to be exposed to COVID,” she said. “The problem is we go back to school in those conditions we have active COVID cases the school is going to shut down immediately because of cases.”

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Debate Over Reopening Utah Schools Escalates